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"Pourquoi sous cette table?": more Candlelight on Moliere's Tartuffe.

Voici, tout juste, un Lieu propre a servir de Scene; et voila deux Flambeaux pour eclairer la Comedie.

--Le Sicilien, ou, L'Amour peintre, 1668 (1)

Et vous, allumez deux bougies dans mes flambeaux d'argent: il se fait deja tard.

--La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas, 1671 (2)

The "table scene" in Moliere's Tartuffe has generated its own visual afterlife, with a long history of illustration beginning with the frontispiece to the second 1669 edition of the play, often attributed to Francois Chauveau (fig. 1), which served as the basis for the later illustration of the play by Pierre Brissart in the 1682 collected works (fig. 2). (3) For some time, scholars have attempted to clarify the meaning of these (and other) early illustrations and their role in understanding what seventeenth-century audiences actually saw during the scene when Tartuffe attempts to seduce Elmire while her husband, Orgon, hides unceremoniously beneath the eponymous table. Roger Herzel and Stephen Dock have put the available iconographic evidence to excellent use for the study of decor and costumes, respectively, each treating the "table scene" within a much larger context, even as Michael Hawcroft and others, driven more by a hermeneutics of suspicion, caution that care should be taken to account for the "discontinuities" of text and image when dealing with theatrical illustrations as documentary evidence. (4)

Neglected in the study of French theater generally, and with Moliere (and this play, and this scene) more specifically, is the important function and meaning of stage properties that audiences actually saw. Recent scholarship in theater studies has taken up the investigation of stage objects and props from a materialist perspective. (5) However, their significance within the public theaters in late seventeenth-century Paris, despite an abundance of evidence for their existence and deployment within significant drama, has been generally overlooked. (6) While neoclassical dramatic theory may have prohibited the excessive use of stage objects, there can be no denying that there was a judicious proliferation of properties on the French stage, and they warrant investigation from a number of perspectives.

Stage properties demand what cultural theorist Arjun Appadurai has called a "cultural biography" of objects. Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda further specify:

   Objects, in Appadurai's words, possess "life histories" or
   "careers" of exchange that invest them with social significance and
   cultural value. According to this view, objects do not simply
   acquire meaning by virtue of their present social contexts; rather,
   they impart significance to those contexts as a result of the paths
   they have traced through time and space. The significance a
   particular object assumes thus derives from the differential
   relation of its present context to its known or assumed past, and
   potential future, contexts. In order to read the meanings of any
   object, then, it becomes necessary to trace its "cultural
   biography" as it "moves through different hands, contexts, and
   uses." (7)

Harris and Korda have thus noted that the changing meaning of objects, including stage objects and their relation to everyday life, is not only worthy of diachronic investigation, but that an investigation of an object's historical trajectory may be necessary to understand and fully appreciate its meaning in any particular context. What an object might become in the future bears on what an object means in the present and what that object may have meant at any moment in time. This is in accord with Andrew Sofer's methodology in his seminal The Stage Life of Props, wherein he explores the historical trajectory of significant stage properties through much of English dramatic history, most notably that of the (un)consecrated host, the handkerchief, the skull, the fan, and the gun. (8) For Sofer, stage properties are of particular interest to the theater historian because of their curious temporality: "On the one hand, props are unidirectional: they are propelled through stage space and real time before historically specific audiences at a given performance event. At the same time, props are retrospective: in Marvin Carlson's apt expression, they are 'ghosted' by their previous stage incarnations, and hence by a theatrical past they both embody and critique." (9) Stage objects, therefore, are always embedded in a complex temporal context, at once resonating the past, present, and potential future.

Several recent discussions of the "table scene" tend to emphasize the metadramatic performativity and theatricality inherent in Moliere's conception of the play, either toward aesthetic or political aims. Kimberly Cashman describes Moliere's use of metadrama in the "table scene" as a "performance-within-a-play," distinguishing it from "role-play" and the "play-within-a-play" by way of establishing its contract, gaze, and perhaps most importantly, its "spatial split" or deployment of performance space. (10) Michael Spingler suggests that the play presents a sequence of interrupted or censored performances (the depit-amoureux or lovers' quarrel, the eavesdropping, the "table scene") by which the playwright "uses the established conventions and well-used dramatic formulae imposed upon him by an authoritarian system of politics and manners as a way of criticizing that system, in particular its excessive reliance upon performance as a means of self-authentication." (11) Moliere thus "addresses the question of what may be mounted on the seventeenth-century stage, [making] the issue of the limits of theater--what is allowable on stage--the basis for an attack upon those limits." (12) In this essay, I shall investigate a neglected seventeenth-century performance practice for Tartuffe that not only reinforces such metadramatic interpretations of the scene but that proffers a significant role for stage properties in the play's performance history. After examining Moliere's use of candles as properties generally, and then exploring the evidence for their use in Tartuffe in particular, this essay begins to contemplate the "cultural biography" of the candle on the French stage so as to suggest that the "table scene" may be much more than meets the eye; that something else, something incendiary, may be hiding in plain sight. (13)

I. Candles as Stage Properties in Moliere's Theater

Some of the most important objects that Paris audiences actually saw during seventeenth-century performances of the "table scene" were candles--a lot of them. This is not surprising as candles were the lighting technology of the public theater. At the very moment when the city's public streets were being illuminated at night for the first time by candlelit lanterns, Tartuffe was being performed with the techniques of stage lighting that had served its indoor theaters for decades, employing a specialized personnel, cost structure, and terminology as documented in Chappuzeau's Le Theatre Francois (1674) and the registres (accounts) of the companies that performed the play in the 1660s and 1670s. (14)

Unlike most modern lighting technology (pace Brecht), overhead candles were a ubiquitous and prominent feature of the seventeenth-century Parisian stage. They were always in plain sight but in part ignored, conventionalized into meaninglessness, part of the apparatus of playmaking. Contrast this with when a candle appeared in Macbeth at the Globe, to take probably the most famous example. In Shakespeare's outdoor public theater, the object as stage property necessarily carried a certain significance because it was part of the dramatic fiction rather than an apparatus of stage technology. In Moliere's indoor public theater, the Palais Royal, on the other hand, candles were most often seen as objects of stage lighting, and convention dictated that they become dramatically invisible. Thus, it is interesting to note one of the key differences in the Chauveau illustration of the "table scene" (from 1669) and the Brissart illustration (from 1682). The earlier engraving depicts one of the chandeliers among several known to exist at the Palais Royal, while the later version, in many other ways a copy, purposely effaces the chandelier altogether, reinforcing the representation of the dramatic action without the theatrical apparatus (decor and lighting) that supports it. In terms of stage lighting, Chauveau's representation is realistic and theatrical; Brissart's is idealistic and dramatic. (15)

Of course, candles could serve another function in Moliere's theater besides being used to light the stage action. As for Shakespeare, they could also be seen as significant "lighting properties" with affordances for meaning within the dramatic space rather than as "invisible" lighting instruments in the theater. (16) Like the dramatic significance of Lady Macbetffs taper both during the scene in which it appears (5.1) and its remembered resonance later in the play's action--"Out, out, brief candle!" (5.5)--Moliere's bougies, flambeaux, and chandelles, all words that denote "candles;' might also signify on multiple levels of dramatic meaning, either as physical objects, or else as referred objects simply spoken about. But even a cursory look at the incidence with which Moliere uses words that refer to candles shows the rarity with which such objects were even mentioned, let alone appeared, in his plays (see Table 1). The word cierge/s (another that may denote "candle/s") does not appear in any of the plays. Missing from this list, of course, because lacking any reference to candles, are some of Moliere's best known comedies.

Two of the rare instances of a pair of candles being mentioned in Moliere's plays are those cited in the epigraphs to this essay. Each describes a very different use for candles in the stage action of their respective plays, one referring to offstage objects and the other to onstage properties. In scene 2 of La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas (The Countess of Escarbagnas, 1671), the title character calls for her maid, Andree, to light two candles because it is getting late in the day and candles are necessary to provide light. As it happens, Andree is mortified because she does not have wax candles, only tallow, the difference being highly significant to the social standing implied by their household use and their actual functioning (as wax burns more cleanly):

La Comtesse: Taisez-vous, sotte que vous etes; vous ne sauriez ouvrir la bouche que vous ne disiez une impertinence. (A Criquet) Des sieges. (A Andree) Et vous, allumez deux bougies dans mes flambeaux d'argent: il se fait deja tard. Qu'est-ce que c'est donc, que vous me regardez toute effaree?

Andree: Madame ...

La Comtesse: He bien! madame! Qu'y a-t-il?

Andree: C'est que ...

La Comtesse: Quoi?

Andree: C'est que je n'ai point de bougie.

La Comtesse: Comment! vous n'en avez point?

Andree: Non, madame, si ce n'est des bougies de suif.

La Comtesse: La bouviere! Et ou est donc la cire que je tis acheter ces jours passes?

Andree: Je n'en ai point vu depuis que je suis ceans.

La Comtesse: Otez-vous de la, insolente. Je vous renvoierai chez vos parens.

(The Countess: Silence, you drunken wretch! You can hardly open your mouth without making some rude remark. Quick, some seats; and you, light two wax candles in my silver candlesticks; it is getting late. What is it now? Why do you look so scared?

Andree: Ma'am.

The Countess: Well--Ma'am--what is the matter?

Andree: It's that ...

The Countess: What?

Andree: I have no wax candles, but only dips.

The Countess: The simpleton! And where are the wax candles I bought a few days ago?

Andree: I have seen none since I have been here.

The Countess: Get out of here, rude girl. I will send you back to your parents.) (17)

Neither the two wax candles nor the two silver candlesticks are stage properties in the performance of La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas. As objects invoked only by suggestion, they never actually appear onstage. Still, their mention here suggests the most usual signification for stage candles and candlesticks, that is, as a sign for their everyday, indoor use to dispel darkness.

Another use of candles as stage objects in Moliere occurs at the very beginning of the comedie-ballet Le Sicilien, ou L'Amour peintre (The Sicilian, or The Painter Called Love, 1668), when the servant Hali uses flambeaux for a less quotidian purpose. The play's setting begins in marked contrast to Moliere's revolutionary settings for Le Misanthrope and Tartuffe, which take place in unique, interior locales rather than outside, in the street, which is the traditional location for comedy, and as begins Le Sicilien. (18) But Hali would rather be inside. Alone onstage, and complaining of being commanded outside into the profound darkness of the night, he dramaturgically sets the visual scene (and his ocular blindness) for the audience, who can of course see perfectly well: "Il fait noir comme dans un Four. Le Ciel s'est habille, ce soir, en Scaramouche; etje ne vois pas une Etoile qui montre le bout de son nez" (It is as dark as the inside of an oven. Tonight the sky is cloaked like Scaramouche, and I do not see a star showing the tip of its nose). As Adraste approaches, Hali first perceives his master's lighting properties, almost certainly carried by the two lackeys that enter with him--"Mais voici des Flambeaux, et, sans doute c'est lui" (But here are torches, and without a doubt, it's him)--as the two then fumble in the darkness:

Adraste: Est-ce toi, Hali?

Hali: Et qui pourrait-ce etre que de moi? A ces heures de nuit, hors vous, et moi, Monsieur, je ne crois pas que Personne s'avise de courir, maintenant, les Rues.

(Adraste: Is it you, Hali?

Hali: And who could it be but me? At this hour of the night, except you and me, Sir, I don't think that anyone considers roaming these streets now.) (19)

This kind of dramaturgy may remind one more of the "imaginary forces" necessary for the functioning of Elizabethan theater than the verisimilitude associated with French classicism. But with this fumbling in the dark, Moliere may have been taking the opportunity to comment on a subject that was clearly on the minds of Parisians at the very moment of the play's performance: the possibility of urban street lighting, the promise of being able to journey easily outside, within the city, in the dead of night. For the daily lives of Parisians, Adraste's portable (and expensive) flambeaux, which in this scene are actual stage objects rather than just verbal signifiers, would become less necessary, soon to be replaced by public candle-lanterns, "lighting of order" maintained at public expense, and quickly enabling what Craig Koslofsky has recently called the "nocturnalization of urban daily life" (20) According to Hali, a character making his first appearance at the Palais Royal in June 1667, no one should be out in the street under such poor lighting conditions. In the same year, Louis XIV and Jean-Baptiste Colbert, his minister of finance, introduced street lighting under the auspices of the "council for the reform of the policing of the city" and accordingly levied a "taxe des boues et lanternes" (tax for mud and lanterns). (21) Many in the first public audiences for Le Sicilien would doubtless have been aware of the promise of street lighting because for such a transformative urban luxury they were now subject to "the only significant direct tax on householders in Paris under the Old Regime." (22) Hali's cursing the darkness was being remedied by the monarch, but at taxpayer expense. Surely, it was on the minds of the theatergoing public, who might have read Moliere's reference to the need for lighting the street at night as slightly propagandistic, or at least fueling the flames of public discourse about the subject.

In the seventeenth century, flambeaux signified torches in an outdoor context as well as candles and/or candlesticks when indoors. Jan Clarke has noted that Furetiere defined a flambeau as an assembly of several large wicks surrounded by a lot of wax that serves to light the streets and the country at night, but that his dictionary added that a flambeau de chambre is that which one puts in chandeliers: "Il nous semble donc que parfois ces deux termes de bougie et de flambeau sont interchangeables. Notons egalement une troisieme definition: 'flambeau se dit aussi de plusieurs lumieres qui esclairent en un lieu. Les Comedies sont plus belles quand on les joue aux flambeaux" (It seems, therefore, that sometimes these two terms, bougie and flambeau, are interchangeable. But let's note as well a third definition [of Furetiere]: 'flambeau also means several lights that illuminate a place. Comedies are more beautiful when one plays them under flambeaux'). (23)

Adraste's pair of torches serves to light the darkness, but more importantly they also show where he is to passers-by, to present him as being law-abiding in his travels about the city at night, to be seen as well as to see. During scene 2, however, Hali quickly transforms their function from properties signifying "lighting of order" (street lighting) into "lighting of festivity" (theatrical lighting), as suggested by the example of Furetiere's third definition (above). (24) In order to coax Isadore to her window, Hali suggests that the musicians perform the pastoral interlude of scene 3: "Il faut qu'ils vous chantent une certaine scene d'une petite comedie que je leur ai vu essayer. Ce sont deux bergers amoureux" (They must sing you a certain scene of a little comedy that I saw them attempt. There are two shepherds in love). And when Adraste agrees, Hali literally sets the stage--"Voici, tout juste, un lieu propre a servir de scene; et voila deux flambeaux pour eclairer la comedie" (Here's just the right place to serve as a stage; and here are two torches to throw light on the scene)-transforming the two torches from their quotidian function into signs of theatricality, serving thus to light the play-within-the-play. (25)

In both of these examples, from La Comtesse and Le Sicilien, candles are indexed in Moliere's dialogue, with their object(s) either offstage or onstage respectively. For the "table scene" in Tartuffe, on the other hand, there is a very important but unmentioned stage property that might attract our attention--the lit candle that appears on the table in both the Chauveau and Brissart illustrations (see figs. 1 and 2). It is a curious property, interesting by virtue of its being seen in both engravings but not discussed at all in the scene that revolves around the table on which it is placed. (Also interesting is the fact that that Brissart retains the candle when copying Chauveau rather than effacing it as he does the chandelier.) Note that there are no bougies, chandelles, or flambeaux mentioned in the entire play. No one speaks of a candle, lights a candle, or handles a candle. The candle depicted by Chauveau and Brissart is an instance whereby paratextual illustrations might speak more for performance than the text of the play itself, and they hint at a performance tradition for Tartuffe that the text of the play purposely may not indicate.

II. Setting the "Table Scene" by Candlelight

It the Chauveau and Brissart illustrations were the only seventeenth-century depictions of the scene, one might think that there is only one candle in the "table scene" of Tartuffe, for whatever reason, because that is all they show. But one might also easily infer that these illustrations' particular point of view, showing only half of the table, suggests that there may be another candle on the table's other side. And indeed the other two contemporaneous illustrations of the scene, an anonymous engraving (fig. 3) and a circular screen attributed to Jean Le Pautre (fig. 4), both of which strongly suggest performance conditions, depict two candles instead of one. (26) Moreover, the anonymous engraving, which by coincidence, convention, or imitation takes the same half-table perspective as Chauveau and Brissart, seems at pains to depict two candles instead of just one, placing them on the table in an unlikely (in fact bizarre) position as if to insist on their pairing despite showing only hall of the table. The Le Pautre screen, for its part, is the only one of the four illustrations that depicts Orgon's anagnorisis in act 4, scene 5, his unscripted peeking out from under the table, rather than the dramatic confrontation of act 4, scene 7. It is also the only one to show most (if not all) of the table, with its pair of candles placed, as one would expect if extrapolating from Chauveau and Brissart, on either side. Ali of the illustrators thus either imply or represent the existence of a pair of candles in the "table scene" despite their not being called for in the text. Were they part of the performance text of Tartuffe, or were they just part of the illustrators' imaginations or assumptions?

In fact, there is further evidence to suggest that a pair of candles was either part of Moliere's conception of the play (either in 1664, 1667, or 1669), or at least part of the performance practice for its early subsequent performances. First, there is the evidence of Le memoire de Mahelot, specifically the notices of Michel Laurent that list the required properties for specific plays in the repertory at the Hotel de Bourgogne. There, the notice for Tartuffe reads, "Le theatre est une chambre il faut 2 fauteuille une table un tapis dessus 2 flambeaux une batte" (The stage is a room. There need to be two chairs, a table with a cloth on top, two candle[stick]s, a baton). (27) Assuming that they are not empty, "flambeaux" here signify candlesticks with candles, rather than being akin to Hali's torches in Le Sicilien, because the entire play takes place indoors.

Perhaps more important is the evidence of the season-by-season accounts of the Guenegaud theater in Paris from 1673 to 1680. For each season, Jan Clarke's edition of these accounts lists specific frais extraordinaires (extraordinary expenses) for individual plays produced in the repertoire, including the following entries:

[1] The additional expenses required for [Tartuffe] were usually 2 livres 5 sols, described on 22 September [for season 1675-76] as being for 'Phlipotte and the candles' (R, III, 67, 68). However, on 15 March, the payment was as follows: 'two candles and Crosnierpere for the play Tartuffe, Phlipotte' (R, III, 142);

[2] On 14 April [for season 1676-77], Crosnier pere received 15 sols in connection with Moliere's Tartuffe. At the same time, 3 livres 10 sols were paid for 'candles, Phlipotte and a lackey' (R, IV, 1); and

[3] On 17 August [for season 1677-78], Phlipotte was paid 1 livre 10 sols for her participation in Tartuffe. On 22 October, the assistants received 2 livres 5 sols and an additional candle was purchased for 15 sols (R, V, 44, 72). (28)

As extraordinary expenses, these entries reflect the purchase of candles as properties, not for the purpose of lighting, which would have been accounted as frais ordinaires (ordinary expenses). An examination of the accounts makes dear that property candles were a required expense when Tartuffe was reprised at the Guenegaud.

Between the time of Moliere's death in 1673 and the formation of the Comedie-Francaise in 1680--the period when most, but not all, of the actors from Moliere's surviving company took up residence at the Hotel Guenegaud--there were, in fact, two companies that performed at least four of Moliere's plays (including L'Avare, Le Misanthrope, L'Ecole des femmes, and Tartuffe) in what could be considered the first (and only) competing productions of these plays before the Revolution. (29) Thus, the fact that there is documentary evidence for the conventional use of two candles in Tartuffe at both the Hotel de Bourgogne and the Hotel Guenegaud suggests a performance tradition for the play that was brought to each company by members of Moliere's original troupe at the Palais Royal and was thus a part of the playwright's conception at some point. Why else would dramatically unnecessary objects that are not described in the play text be part of both companies' mises-en-scene? Surely the "table scene" can be performed without two candles, and surely a pair of candles was not to be found on all tables in seventeenth-century France. So why incur the expense? What did these properties convey that made them worth the extra effort?

There are several intuitive explanations for the meaning of the candles in Tartuffe. First, as in La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas, lighting two candles could merely signify the approach of evening. This is the only explanation for the candles that scholars have previously provided. But the play itself works against this interpretation because Tartuffe is Moliere's only play that specifies in dialogue an exact time within its dramatic action. In act 4, scene 1, shortly before the "table scene" Tartuffe makes a hasty retreat from Cleante, declaring:

   Il est, Monsieur, trois heures et demie:
   Certain devoir pieux me demande la-hant,
   Et vous m'excuserez de vous quitter sitot.

   (It is, Monsieur, three-thirty. A pious duty
   requires me to go upstairs; please excuse me now.) (30)

Candles are certainly not necessary in the middle of the afternoon, and there is no reason to believe that enough time elapses between Tartuffe's exit and Elmire's introduction of the table at the beginning of act 4, scene 4--"Approchons cette table, et vous mettez dessous" (Let's move closer to [or pull up] this table, and you get underneath)--for literal darkness to have fallen on Orgon's household.

The specificity of Moliere's time is significant in an era when most portable timepieces did not yet measure at that level of precision. As Roland Racevskis points out in his excellent study of horology and its literary and cultural influence, "[t]ime conceptions built around ... microdiachronies, or sets of small time units arranged in the perception and understanding of experience, were only beginning to take shape among the scientific and literary intelligentsia of the seventeenth century. [But] these ways of thinking would become more widespread as precision time technologies were more widely distributed in the eighteenth century and beyond." (31) Curiously, Francois Boucher's illustration that appears in the 1734 edition of the (Euvres de Moliere--one of many later depictions of the "table scene"--goes so far as to suggest the need to account for the time in act 4, scene I by having a cartel clock feature prominently in the room. Not surprisingly, two lit candles are on the table (fig. 5), suggesting a possible continuation of the performance practice at the Comedie-Francaise well into the eighteenth century.

The candles on the table in Tartuffe are not there to dispel darkness because Moliere implicitly specifies that there is none; it is mid-afternoon. Still, this is the explanation given by Jacques Scherer, who believes that "[l]es deux flambeaux sont allumes a la fin de la piece [sic] parce qu'il se fait tard et qu'on a besoin de lumiere" (the two candles are lit at the end of the play [sic] because it is late and there is a need for light). (32) Perhaps the candles do focus the audience's attention on the passage of time, from afternoon to evening, and thus importantly serve to remind them of the impending marriage deadline and the urgency of the scene. Conversely, in the late nineteenth century Paul Regnier proclaimed that "[l]es flambeaux sont absolument inutiles, et (si tant est qu'on les ait jamais employes) on a bien fait de les supprimer" (the candles are absolutely unnecessary, and [so much as they were ever used] it is better to cut them). Even as he asserted that there was no one around to light them, except Dorine, who lacked the occasion, it was really because of the play's temporal setting (in mid-afternoon during springtime) that Regnier concluded: "[d]onc, il est non seulement inutile, mais contraire a la verite, d'allumer des flambeaux" (therefore, it is not only unnecessary, but contrary to the truth, to light the candles). (33)

Another possible explanation for the flambeaux, which is also implied by the exchange between the Comtesse and Andree in the passage above, might be to signify social status, in this case the wealth of Orgon's bourgeois household. The Guenegaud registres (account books) designate the candles as bougies, which Clarke reminds us were "objets de luxe," (34) rather than chandelles, so they might serve to signify bourgeois affluence in the same manner as the passing references to candles in Carlo Goldoni's Le Smanie per la Villeggiatura (Off to the Country, 1761) or Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer (1773), to cite two eighteenth-century instances of candles as objects or properties. But if they did serve to provide a more stable signifier of Orgon's social status than a mere passing reference, their existence would likely be activated or reinforced in the dialogue, as they are in these later plays. But this is not the case. (35)

A less evident meaning for the candles--and a more interesting one in light of recent interpretations of the "table scene"--is that they may serve, in Brechtian fashion, as metatheatrical signifiers, akin to Hali's flambeaux that light the play-within-the-play in scene 2 of Le Sicilien. If, with Cashman and Spingler, we see the "table scene" in Tartuffe as an instance of Moliere depicting the realm of performance--wherein Elmire elaborately stages Tartuffe's villainy for Orgon, who serves as the hidden audience and sometime spectator--then the pair of candles might serve to articulate or flame that performance, providing a sign of theatrical distanciation, even as they remain within the world of the play. That is, they serve to "eclairer la comedie" (light the play) of Tartuffe's unmasking that Elmire will direct and perform. Indeed, being able to see properly is the major concern of Elmire as she creates the theatrical contract for the "table scene":

Elmire: J'admire, encore un coup, cette foiblesse etrange. Mais que me repondroit votre incredulite, Si je vous faisois voir qu'on vous dit verite?

Orgon: Voir?

Elmire: Oui.

Orgon: Chansons.

Elmire: Mais quoi? si je trouvais maniere De vous le faire voir avec pleine lumiere?

Orgon: Contes en l'air.

Elmire: Quel homme! Au moins repondez-moi.

Je ne vous parle pas de nous ajouter foi;

Mais supposons ici que, d'un lieu qubn peut prendre, On vous fit clairement tout voir et tout entendre, Que diriez-vous alors de votre homme de bien?

(Elmire: I must say, I continue to be amazed by your stubbornness. Would you change your mind if I showed [could make you see] that we are all telling the truth?

Orgon: Showed? [See?]

Elmire: Yes.

Orgon: Nonsense.

Elmire: How so? If I could prove it without a doubt? [If I could find a way to make you see it with full light?] Orgon: Empty talk.

Elmire: What a man! At least answer me. I am not asking you to trust us. But what if you were in a place where you could see and hear everything, what would you say about your righteous man then?) (36)

Elmire's intention is for Orgon to see the truth via an improvised performance that in the end she cannot fully direct or control. For this purpose, one can imagine that it may have been she (and not Dorine, as Regnier assumed) who lit the deux flambeaux, perhaps during her elaboration of the theatrical contract, after Orgon has taken his place underneath the table (4.4.1369-86). Thus, the candles could have indexed much more than their quotidian function. They could have also designated a presentational function, with Moliere (and/or his early stage interpreters) emphasizing the "table scene" as performance.

Of course, as we have seen, none of these possible implications is reinforced by the text itself. Still, a pair of actual candles for Tartuffe was significant enough to be considered a scenic requirement at the Hotel de Bourgogne and, perhaps more tellingly, an extraordinary expense at the Hotel Guenegaud. Martin Meisel aptly notes that "for a play in performance there is a presumption of functionality when an object is given prominence, and there are no prizes in the theater for useless clutter ... or for objects that are merely decorative or possibly even misleading--unless misleading for a purpose" (37) Could Moliere's candles have even meant something more? Could they be misleading for a purpose?

III. Candles and Catholicism: Hugo and Sardou

In order to understand further and more fully the possible meaning of the candles on the table in Tartuffe, it is useful to consider two examples of flambeaux as significant stage properties in later nineteenth-century French theater, and to posit that their meaning may be historically related to those in Moliere's play. In what follows, I suggest the trajectory of a "cultural biography" of the deux flambeaux as stage objects. The first of these examples is the pair of candles that appears prominently in the original stage adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables. Shortly after the novel's publication in 1862, one of the author's sons, Charles, and his long-time friend, the playwright Paul Meurice, set about writing a theatrical version of the story of Jean Valjean. While a pair of silver candlesticks appears briefly (but significantly) in Hugo's novel, where they serve as important objects in the development of the narrative, these candlesticks take on an even more important role in the first stage adaptation by virtue of being materialized into stage properties that have the potential for producing meaning well beyond their initial reference. In other words, they can (and do) remain or reappear onstage as reminders of past action and retain a highly charged thematic visual resonance in the theater, especially pertinent in a work that deals with the necessity for spiritual redemption and perpetual sacrifice.

Recall how, at the beginning of the first part of Hugo's novel ("Fantine"), the pair of candlesticks appear. Jean Valjean is on the brink of being arrested for stealing from his host, Bishop Myriel of Digne, who surprisingly rescues Valjean by telling the detaining officers that it was he who actually gave the stolen silverware to his guest as a gift--and that, in fact, Valjean had forgotten to take a pair of silver candlesticks that were part of this gift--thus exonerating the thief for his crime, and educing the promise that Valjean atone and lead a more exemplary life. In this way, Bishop Myriel endows the pair of candlesticks with a redemptive, quasi-religious meaning that takes advantage of the preexisting cultural significance of candlesticks as religious objects. Would they generate the same meaning if Myriel were not a bishop, or if they were one, rather than two?

The first stage adaptation of Les Miserables follows the novel in calling for a pair of candles as properties in the "Myriel" section of its prologue; over several scenes in the second tableau, the candlesticks are clearly described in stage directions calling for their specific use and movement about the stage. As first described in the initial stage direction, Myriel's "[c]hambre tres-simple" (very simple room) includes "[d]eux flambeaux dargent, l'un sur la table, lautre sur la cheminee" (two silver candlesticks, one on the table, the other on the mantelpiece). (38) During the scene, the stage directions indicate, "Madame Magloire allume le second flambeau et lepose sur la table" (Mrs. Magloire lights the second candle and puts it on the table), and "Elle souffle les deux flambeaux sur la table" (She blows out the two candles on the table), before Myriel tells Valjean during the crucial moment, "Mon ami, avant de vous en aller, voici vos chandeliers. Prenez-les. [Jean Valjean prend machinalement les chandeliers]" (My friend, before you take your leave, here are your candlesticks. Take them [Jean Valjean mechanically takes the candlesticks]). (39) Later in the play, as if to keep the audience subconsciously responsive to them, a stage direction indicates, "Sur la cheminee, en evidence, deux flambeaux dargent" (On the mantelpiece are seen two silver candlesticks) without their being referred to or handled. (40) Further on, Madeleine frantically soliloquizes while searching for them, the force of the dramaturgy almost transforming the objects into sacred relics. (41) Finally, the properties appear during the epilogue, first in the initial stage description: "Sur la table, deux flambeaux dargent" (On the table, two silver candlesticks); then, as Valjean enters, twenty years older, he orders, "Toussaint, allumez ces deux flambeaux," (Toussaint, light these two candles), after which the stage direction indicates, "[Il sapproche de la table et regarde les deux flambeaux" (He goes to the table and looks at the two candles)], before he speaks to an absent Myriel through them, "Es-tu content, toi, mon guide ? Ai-je bien sacrifie jusqu'au bout mon coeur a ma conscience?" (Are you happy, you, my guide? Have I sacrificed from the bottom of my heart to my conscience?). Shortly thereafter, and just before dying, Valjean says, "Cosette, c'est a toique je legue ces deux flambeaux. Ils sont en argent, mais pour moi ils sont en or, ils sont en diamant. Je ne sais si celui qui me les a donnes va bien me recevoir la haut. J'ai fait ce que j'ai pu" (Cosette, it is to you that I leave these two candlesticks. They are made of silver, but for me, they are golden--they are made of diamonds. I do not know if the person who gave them to me is really going to receive me up there. But I did what I could). (42)

Thus, rather than simply advancing the plot with a trace of symbolism, as they do in the novel, the bishop's candlesticks (as stage props) serve to structure the overall arc of the dramatic action, becoming a central figure in their own right. Charged with a broadly religious connotation, and appearing and reappearing over the course of a very long play, they were handled, spoken about, and even spoken to. They were symbolic in representing the almost sacramental vow with which Bishop Myriel charges Valjean, and synecdochic in representing first Valjean himself (to himself as Madeleine), then Myriel (to Valjean at the play's conclusion), standing as both icon and conduit to embody and communicate with absent figures. The audience was finally left with a potent awareness of Catholic redemption effected by a pair of candlesticks. Victor Hugo's son, Charles, and Paul Meurice accomplished this because they knew they could rely on the visual potency of these objects as a religious signifier, an effective amalgam that conveyed its meaning by virtue of existing as a paired set--their pairing transforming them into something more than they are singly--as well as being associated with a man of the church. (43)

A similar religious potency, endowed by dramatic action onto stage properties, could be seen with even more startling effect some years later when Victorien Sardou's La Tosca, a vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt and later the basis for Giacomo Puccini's opera, opened at the Theatre de la Porte Saint-Martin in 1887. This time, a pair of candles and candlesticks was daringly used to create a simulacrum of a Catholic funeral rite (fig. 6). Best known in the carefully wrought conclusion to act 2 of the operatic version, which Puccini marked (in his autograph score) "scena dei candelieri" (scene of the candlesticks), while providing detailed musical underscoring for each gesture, (44) Sardou's original stage directions (for act 4) detail Floria's impromptu ritual over the recently murdered Scarpia, whose body lies on the floor:

      Elle va pour sortir, puis apercevant les flambeaux allumes,
   va pour les eteindre, mais se ravise, prend de chaque main un
   flambeau et vient lentement poser celui qu'elle tient dans sa main
   gauche a gauche de Scarpia, passe devant le cadavre, en tournant le
   dos au public, et place l'autre a la droite du mort. Regarde autour
   d'elle en se dirigeant vers la porte, apercoit le crucifix sur le
   prie-Dieu, vale decrocher, le prend lentement par le pied,
   presentant la tete du Christ face au public, s'agenouille devant
   Scarpia et place le crucifix sur sa poitrine.

      (She goes to leave, then noticing the lit candles, goes to
   extinguish them, but reconsiders, takes a candle in each hand and
   goes slowly to place the one in her left hand to the left of
   Scarpia, crosses behind the corpse, turning her back to the
   audience, and places the other to the right of the deceased.
   Looking around her, and heading in the direction of the door, [she]
   notices the crucifix on the prie-dieu, goes to unhook it [from the
   wall], takes it slowly by the base, presenting the head of Christ
   to the audience, kneels before Scarpia and places the crucifix on
   his chest.) (45)

With the scripted precision of Floria's faux-ritualistic behavior, and the addition of another object, the Crucifix, into the simulated rite, Sardou here transforms a pair of candles into an image that resonates with the audience's understanding of the Catholic Mass. While the Crucifix may be the catalyst for the creation of that image, the candles themselves are required for constructing the sign's potency as Catholic ritual. And while Bernhardt's original Crucifix may have been quite large, many later productions (of the opera in particular) have either reduced its size or eliminated it altogether. The pair of candles, however, often remains the fundamental component of Sardou's sacramental vision.

IV. From Table to Altar: Seeing is Believing

The role of the Catholic Church in French culture was certainly quite different in Bernhardt's day than at the time of Moliere. But its general post-Tridentine rituals were relatively constant from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, relying as they did on repetition and persistence for their longstanding cultural influence on practicing Catholics and nonbelievers alike. I propose that the candles in Tartuffe symbolically functioned with the same religious potency as those in later French drama though in a much more subversive way. Quite simply, on the seventeenth-century stage, when a man dressed in the clothing of a priest, or in garb otherwise associated with religious devotion, stood next to two lit candles placed on a table covered with a cloth, the resulting image could have been read as depicting or suggesting an altar, and by extension a Catholic rite. Indeed, the semiotics of that situation may elicit such reception in the contemporary theater, as in life, without any additional ecclesiastical signs; to some Catholics, or to others in a Catholic-dominated culture, two candles on a table may be activated by other (and not many) signs to evoke the image of a low Mass, with the table thus "becoming" an altar. (46) Depending on any number of concurrent visual signs, the image could be read by some (though probably not by all) in the audience in this way, and a certain portion of these could take added offense, or at least become uncomfortable, at imagining an altar desecrated by the obviously farcical behavior of the "table scene." This interpretation is most apposite historically, of course, for the original, three-act version of the play in 1664, when Tartuffe was indeed dressed as a "fourbe en soutane" (rogue in a cassock). But it would operate more subtly thereafter, depending on the extent to which audiences interpreted Tartuffe's character and costume as clerical. (47)

Furetiere defined an altar as a "[L]ieu eleve en forme de table pour sacrifier a une Divinite" (a prominent [or high] place, in the form of a table, for making sacrifice to a Diety), specifying further, "se dit proprement dans le Christianisme d'un lieu consacre a Dieu sous l'invocation de quelque Saint, qui est eleve & orne dans quelque Eglise ou uel ue Chapelle pour y dire la Messe ... [O]n ne peut dresser un autel dans une maison particuliere, si l'Eveque ne ra beni, ou fait benir" (strictly speaking within Christianity, a place consecrated to God through the invocation of a saint, which is made prominent [elevated] and ornamented in a Church or a Chapel so as to say Mass there ... one can construct an altar in a private home if the bishop has blessed it or gives his blessing). (48) He thus notes the conceptual congruence between table and altar--all altars are tables--and that there were, in fact, altars in private homes in seventeenth-century France, even those consecrated for the purpose of Mass. Indeed, the practice must have been prevalent for him to mention it in his dictionary. In a Christian context, all altars evoke tables as the setting for the Last Supper and the Eucharistic celebration that is patterned after it. In the theater, a table may evoke an altar by relying on conceptual congruence to create theatrical meaning, in the same way that a chair may easily evoke a throne by simply having someone with a crown sit upon it. (49)

Such an effect of the candles is independent of an audience member's entry into the fictional reality of the play because the image may be received regardless of the level of social realism admitted in the play's interpretation, regardless of whether the play is approached realistically (as comedie classique) or festively (as farce). Consider, for the sake of argument, a realistic interpretation and the objections that might arise on imagining that one sees an altar. Is it possible that there could be an altar in Orgon's house? Are freestanding altars even used in seventeenth-century Paris? Are two candles sufficient for a Mass? Would Tartuffe even be sanctioned to perform a Mass? These questions are relevant only to those in the audience who see the play in realistic terms, while others will not even admit such questions should the image make itself manifest. For them, offense always trumps aesthetics. Observe the hyperbolic condemnation found in Pierre Roulle's Le Roiglorieux, the first sustained attack on Tartuffe, which Moliere rebutted in his "Premier placet" of August 1664, pointing out that the cure de Saint-Barthelemy did not even see at first hand the performance that he so caustically condemns:

      Un homme, ou plutet un Demon vetu de chair et habille en homme
   et le plus signale impie et libertin qui fut jamais dans les siecles
   passes, avait eu assez d'impiete et d'abomination pour faire sortir
   de son esprit diabolique une piece toute prete detre rendue
   publique, en la faisant monter sur le Theatre, a la derision de
   toute l'Eglise, et au mepris du caractere le plus sacre et de la
   fonction la plus divine, et au mepris de ce qu'il y a de plus saint
   dans l'Eglise, ordonne [sic] du Sauveur pour la sanctification des
   ames, a dessein d'en rendre l'usage ridicule, contemptible, odieux.

      (A man, or rather a Demon clothed in flesh and dressed like a
   man, and the most notably impious libertine who has ever lived these
   past centuries, has had the wickedness and abomination to bring
   forth from his diabolical mind a play ready to be shown on the
   public stage to the derision of the whole Church, and contempt for
   what is most sacred and for what is the most divine service,
   disdain for what is most holy in the Church, ordained by the Savior
   for the sanctification of souls, with the intention of rendering it
   ridiculous, contemptible, and odious.) (50)

Might this not be a more appropriate response if Roulle had heard that Moliere, regardless of his intention, was mocking the sacrament of the Eucharist by displaying an altar as a site for ridicule and farce? Indeed, the cure explicitly goes on to mention the injury done not only to Religion, the Church, and its Officers, but also "a la reverence due aux Sacrements, qui sont les canaux de la grace que JESUS-CHRIST a meritee aux hommes par sa mort en la Croix, a la faveur desquels elle est transfuse et repandue dans les Ames des Fideles qui sont saintement diriges et conduits" (to the reverence owed to the Sacraments, which are the channels of the grace that JESUS CHRIST has merited for men by his death on the cross, in whose favor it is transfused and widespread in the souls of the faithful who are virtuously directed and led). (51) Here, it is not just Moliere's characterization of Tartuffe that is offensive and impious, but also the author's blasphemous treatment of the sacraments. (52)

Following the dictates of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, in addition to those of the Roman Missal, candles have always been a requirement of post-Tridentine Catholic ritual, with the number absolutely necessary for the celebration of a low Mass set at two. And for a private mass performed by a priest (not a bishop), two candles are all that were allowed. (53) Frederic Cousinie has examined in great detail the development of the high altar as an intricate architectural phenomenon in seventeenth-century Paris, as a site attending a complex "systeme de relations" (system of relations), one that curiously resembles the semiotics of theatrical performance. (54) But while maitres-autels and retables in seventeenth-century Paris were justly impressive--for awe was one of their primary functions--they often eclipse the minor, less extravagant, but by no means undignified, altars located throughout many cathedrals and churches with which congregants also had familiarity in daily worship. Louis XIV's chapel at Versailles, which was planned from 1682 but not completed until 1710, for example, had nine altars (in addition to its high altar) on which a lesser Mass could be celebrated. (55) Altars of varying splendor and function were quite common throughout Paris, and it is not difficult to see why Roulle and others might be enraged on hearing (or seeing) that Moliere and his actors imply an altar as the site for the farcical seduction of a married woman by a man of the Church.

The continued performance tradition for the candles in Tartuffe suggests the appealing subversiveness of this image to Moliere's early stage interpreters. By ghosting an onstage altar, Moliere is seen to make, in Spingler's words, "the issue of the limits of theatre--what is allowable on stage--the basis for an attack upon those limits". (56) Further, this impious stage image has the benefit of being completely deniable. When confronted by the specific irreverence, both author and actors might claim that the spectator is reading too much into the image, which is not even there, let alone intended. The stage effect heightens the attack on the overzealous, fueling the flames of Moliere's critique of faux religiosity, or even of Catholicism's own hypocritical theatricality, to which the author makes reference in his preface by discussing how theater and religious mysteries have always been yoked:

   [S]ans doute, il ne serait pas difficile [de] faire voir que la
   comedie, chez les anciens, a pris son origine de la religion, et
   faisait partie de leurs mysteres; que les Espagnols, nos voisins,
   ne celebrent guere de fete ou la comedie ne soit melee, et que meme
   parmi nous, elle doit sa naissance aux soins d'une confrerie a qui
   appartient encore aujourd'hui l'Hotel de Bourgogne, que c'est un
   lieu qui fut donne pour y representer les plus importants mysteres
   de notre foi.

   (Without a doubt, it would not be difficult to show that comedy,
   among the ancients, originated from religion, and was part of their
   mysteries; that the Spanish, our neighbors, hardly celebrate a
   feast where comedy is not entwined; and even among us, comedy owes
   its birth to the care of a brotherhood that still today owns the
   Hotel de Bourgogne, a place that was given to represent the most
   important mysteries of our faith.) (57)

Yet Moliere's mysterious image of the altar remains an "optical illusion" similar in this respect to how Claire Asquith has described Shakespeare's coded use of Catholic imagery. (58) Without a perceptible trace in the written (and later published) text of the play, Moliere could even read the work privately as he did on numerous occasions while it was banned from the public stage without anyone understanding its profane implication. When read, the play is relatively innocent; when performed with candles, the play burns with subversive energy.

Moliere's is not the first seventeenth-century stage altar for which we have visual evidence; the historical trajectory for the deux flambeaux reaches back in time as well as forward. Le memoire de Mahelot contains a croquis of the decor for Pierre Du Ryer's tragicomedy Argenis (1631), which depicts an altar upstage center, the focal point for the stage design (see fig. 7). This rendering, which art historian Marc Bayard has recently attributed to Georges Buffequin, is accompanied (like the Memoire's other forty-six) by an explanatory notice, which in this case begins: "Il faut au Milieu du theatre un Autel fort riche, deux flambeaux, et des Lumieres" (In the middle of the stage there must be an elaborate altar, two candles, and some lights). (59) Showing a table covered with a cloth on which sit two candles, this croquis is a testament to the simplicity with which an altar was designed to be represented onstage.

Finally, three engravings found in the Collection Michel Hennin (in the Bibliotheque nationale de France, [fig. 8]) allow us to imagine altars similar to that conjured by this performance tradition for Tartuffe. Although they depict Francois de Paris (1691-1727), Diacre du Diocese de Paris, and are thus from several decades after the play's creation, they illustrate the kind of private altar that might have been evoked by the "altar scene" The first engraving (fig. 8, left) presents Francois, dressed very much like one might imagine Tartuffe to be costumed (en soutane; cf. fig. 1) at devotional prayer in a private chapel, before an altar adorned with candles to each side of a central Crucifix. The second (fig. 8, center) presents him at a similar chapel altar, this time in supplication (with a martinet, une discipline, cf. 3.3.853) in a private setting, complete with bed, armoire, and books. Finally, the third engraving (fig. 8, right) shows him on his deathbed, this time with a makeshift altar (of the same configuration as the others) assembled on a table with a tablecloth, much as one might imagine the private altar of Tartuffe (absent the Crucifix). (60) Any notion that a devotional altar would not have existed in the devout Orgon's household, in a semi-permanent oratory or else in makeshift fashion, should be dispelled by the decor depicted in these engravings. But as Furetiere suggests (above), even a consecrated altar was possible in a private home, albeit without the spectacular, ornamental trappings of an elaborate maitre-autel. In describing the ideological reach of the Compagnie du Saint Sacrement, Henry Phillips notes, "the laity could almost aspire to the sanctity attaching to the priesthood" and "[its] fervour ... was such that private houses used as meeting places could sometimes be treated as if they were chapels. (61) Moliere and his early stage interpreters knew that his play was vilified by that secret society, which in this context might be more appropriately referred to by its full name: La Compagnie du Saint Sacrement de l'Autel. (62) An altar in Tartuffe could directly, though perhaps dangerously, mock the hypocrisy of the cabal whose very name indexed their devotion to the altar of the blessed sacrament (see fig. 8).

But did Moliere really intend the deux flambeaux to have such resonance? Is invoking an altar by way of stage objects really part of the play's subtextual dramatic structure or just part of a later, and short-lived, performance tradition? Perhaps we need to consider that Moliere already summons the image of an altar in the minds of the audience well before the "table scene" setting it in their collective unconscious before activating the ghosted site of Catholic ritual later in the play. Like Shakespeare's mutual reinforcement of the candle motif across scenes 5.1 and 5.5 in Macbeth, Moliere has put the image that will later be created materially onstage into the mouth of Tartuffe himself when he first attempts to seduce Elmire in act 3:

   Votre honneur avec moi ne court point de hasard,
   Et fia nulle disgrace a craindre de ma part.
   Tous ces galants de cour, dont les femmes sont folies,
   Sont bruyants dans leurs faits et vains dans leurs paroles,
   De leurs progres sans cesse on les voit se targuer;
   Ils n'ont point de faveurs qu'ils n'aillent divulguer,
   Et leur langue indiscrete, en qui l'on se confie,
   Deshonore l'autel ou leur coeur sacrifie.

   (Your reputation is not at risk; you need fear no disgrace because
   of me. All those men about town whom the ladies adore--they boast
   about their conquests and talk nonsense, they brag about their
   affairs and pollute the altar on which they have sacrificed their
   hearts.) (63)

Although most interpret this last line as allegorical, Tartuffe's metaphoric preciosity also strategically serves to foreshadow what some in the audience will later see when the "table scene" is performed according to the performance tradition in which its stage properties, les deux flambeaux, become religiously potent--the material desecration of an altar. At the beginning of the "table scene," Orgon asks Elmire, "Pourquoi sous cette table?" (Why under this table? [4.4. 1363]): perhaps because with enough light it will no longer be a mere table at all.

Independent Scholar (Princeton, NJ)


(1) (Here's just the right place to serve as a stage; and here are two torches to light the scene.); Moliere, Le Sicilien, ou L'Amour Peintre, in (Euvres Completes, ed. Georges Forestier, 2 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), 1:805-39 (809). Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.

(2) (And you, light two wax candles in my silver candlesticks; it is already late.); Moliere, La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas, in (Euvres Completes, 2:1015-70 (1025).

(3) Le Tartuffe, ou l'Imposteur, Comedie par J.-B. P. de Moliere (Paris: J. Ribou, 1669); Les oeuvres de Monsieur de Moliere, Reveues, Corrigees et Augmentees (Paris: D. Thierry, C. Barbin et P. Trabouillet, 1682).

(4) Roger W. Herzel, "The Decor of Moliere's Stage: The Testimony of Brissart and Chauveau," PMLA 93 (1978): 925-54; Francoise Siguret, "L'Image ou l'Imposture: Analyse d'une Gravure Illustrant Le Tartuffe," Revue d'Histoire du Theatre 36 (1984): 362-70; Stephen Varick Dock, Costume and Fashion in the Plays of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere: A Seventeenth-Century Perspective (Geneva: Slatkine, 1992); Michael Hawcroft, "Seventeenth-Century French Theatre and its Illustrations: Five Types of Discontinuity" Seventeenth-Century French Studies 24 (2002): 87-105. See also Abby E. Zanger, "Betwixt and Between Print and Performance: A New Approach to Studying Moliere's Body at/of Work," in French "Classical" Theatre Today: Teaching, Research, Performance, ed. Philip Tomlinson (Atlanta: Editions Rodopi, 2001), 117-38; and Noel Peacock, "The Playwright and the Director: a Shifting Hierarchy?" Biblio 17, 166 (2006): 53-69.

(5) Frances N. Teague, Shakespeare's Speaking Properties (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1991); Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Douglas Bruster, "The Dramatic Life of Objects in the Early Modern Drama;" in Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 67-96; and Andrew Sofer, The Stage Life of Props (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003).

(6) Despite acceptance as a discrete semiotic system (along with the controversial issues that thereby obtain), and unlike the studies of early modern English theater above (n. 5), two recent overviews of theatrical production in seventeenth-century France do not treat stage props (accessoires) as a meaningful category; see Roger Herzel, "Theatre History and Seventeenth-Century France," Seventeenth-Century French Studies 30 (2008): 3-16; and La Representation Theatrale en France au XVIIe Siecle, ed. Pierre Pasquier and Anne Surgers (Paris: Armand Colin, 2011). However, for the second quarter of the century, see Marc Vuillermoz, Le Systeme des Objets dans le Theatre Francais des Annees 1625-1650: Corneille, Mairet, Rotrou, Scudery (Geneva: Droz, 2000), and Pasquier's excellent introductory essay in Le Memoire de Mahelot, ed. Pierre Pasquier (Paris: Champion, 2005), 94-103. Erica Fischer-Lichte's treatment of stage properties as a semiotic system remains exemplary; see The Semiotics of Theater (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 107-10. Sofer's excellent overview of the history and controversies regarding stage properties in contemporary theater studies is certainly the key for all future work on the subject; see The Stage Life of Props, 1-29. See also Patrice Paris, Dictionary of the Theatre: Terms, Concepts, and Analysis (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), esp. 289, 400.

(7) Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda, "Introduction: Towards a Materialist Account of Stage Properties;' in Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, 1-31 (18).

(8) Sofer, The Stage Life of Props.

(9) Ibid., viii.

(10) Kimberly Cashman, "Tartuffe, Act IV, Scene 5: A Performance-Within- A- Play," Seventeenth-Century French Studies 25 (2003): 158-67; Georges Forestier, "Le Theatre dans le Theatre" sur la Scene Francaise du Dix-Septieme Siede (Geneva: Droz, 1981) is the seminal work treating Moliere's metatheatricality.

(11) Michael Spingler, "The King's Play: Censorship and the Politics of Performance in Moliere's Tartuffe," Comparative Drama 19 (1985): 240-57 (241).

(12) Ibid., 240.

(13) Thus, I wish to take up Sofer's call "to extend [his] inquiry to other, equally resonant objects'; see The Stage Life of Props, xiii.

(14) Ian Clarke, "L'Eclairage," in La Representation Theatrale en France au XVIIe Siecle, ed. Pierre Pasquier and Anne Surgers (Paris: Armand Colin, 2011), 119-40; Samuel Chappuzeau, Le Theatre Francois, ed. C. J. Gossip, Biblio 17, vol. 178 (Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 2009), 167, 225-32.

(15) Herzel, "The Decor of Moliere's Stage," 937-39.

(16) The designation "lighting properties" is taken from Teague, 19-20.

(17) Moliere, La Corntesse d'Escarbagnas, in (Euvres Completes, 2:1025.

(18) For the historical significance of the unique, interior settings of these plays, see Roger Herzel, "L'Espace feminin dans Le Misanthrope de Moliere" in La Scene et la Coulisse dans le Theatre du XVIIe Siecle en France, ed. Georges Forestier and Lise Michel (Paris: Presses de l'Universite ParisSorbonne, 2011), 199-209.

(19) Moliere, Le Sicilien, ou L'Amour Peintre, in CEuvres Completes, 1:807.

(20) Craig Koslofsky, Evening's Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 128-56 (130). For the genesis of street lighting in Paris, Koslofsky relies on the documentary history found in Auguste Philippe Herlaut, "L'Eclairage des Rues de Paris a la fin du XVIIe Siecle et au XVIIIe Siecle" Memoires de la Societe de l'Histoire de Paris et de I'lle-de-France 43 (1916): 130-240.

(21) Koslofsky, 136.

(22) Ibid.

(23) Clarke, "L'Eclairage," 129.

(24) For describing the parallel rise of these two phenomena in the seventeenth century, Koslofsky (326, n. 12) credits Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 137-43.

(25) As in La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas, Adraste and Hali's flambeaux exist as a pair, rather than singly, and their status as paired objects will become significant later.

(26) The anonymous engraving (fig. 3) suggests performance conditions by depicting four overhead chandeliers and a forestage abutting the parterre; the Le Pautre screen (fig. 4) does so with two chandeliers and three sets of symmetrical wings. They are, thus, more akin to the theatricality of the Chauveau illustration (fig. 1) than the Brissart (fig. 2). For fig. 3: BnF; reprinted in Sylvie Chevalley, Moliere et son Temps: 1622-1673 (Geneva: Minkoff, 1973), 291; and Dock, 145. For fig. 4: BnF, Arsenal 200, 48, C1. 91 C 181919, and see entry no. 590 in Inventaire du Fonds Francais, Graveurs du XVIIe Siecle, Tome 11, Antoine Lepautre, Jacques Lepautre, et Jean Lepautre, ed. Maxime Preaud (Paris: Bibliotheque nationale de France [Departement des Estampes et de la Photographie], 1993), 247.

(27) Le Memoire de Mahelot, ed. Pierre Pasquier (Paris: Champion, 2005), 332; emphasis mine. Although not mentioned by Pasquier, Henry Carrington Lancaster's earlier edition (Paris: Champion, 1920), which silently emends spelling and punctuation, suggests that this particular notice is not Michel Laurent's, as are the others in this section of the Memoire, but was added by another hand; see 118.

(28) Jan Clarke, The Guenegaud Theatre in Paris 1673-1680, 3 vols. (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1998-2007), 2:257-58, 281,319; emphases mine.

(29) Le Memoire de Mahelot, Laurent et d'autres decorateurs de l'Hotel de Bourgogne et de la Comedie-Francaise au 17e siecle, ed. Henry Carrington Lancaster (Paris: Champion, 1920), 177, n. 1.

(30) 4.1.1207-9; Moliere, Tartuffe and The Misanthrope, trans. Prudence Steiner (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009), 81. The anonymous "Lettre sur la comedie de L'Imposteur" ([dated 20 August] 1667) is just as specific about the time, and even more so about the excuse, for Panulphe's [Tartuffe's] departure: "Le Bigot qui se sent presse & pique trop sensiblement par cet avis, luy dit [to the Frere/Cleante]: Monsieur, il est trios heures & demie, certain devoir chretien m'appelle en d'autres lieux, et le quitte de cette sorte."

(31) Roland Racevskis, Time and Ways of Knowing under Louis XIV: Moliere, Sevigne, Lafayette (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2003), 42. In his analysis of timekeeping, including an analysis of Tartuffe's tactical and strategic use of time, Racevskis does not mention the candles as signifiers.

(32) Jacques Scherer, Structures de "Tartuffe" (Paris: SEDES, 1974), 174.

(33) Paul Regnier, Le Tartuffe des Comediens (Paris: Paul Ollendorff, 1896), 162. Regnier relies solely on the evidence of Le Memoire de Mahelot to establish the existence of the candles.

(34) Jan Clarke, "L'Eclairage," 129.

(35) Carlo Goldoni, Off to the Country [Le smanie per la villeggiatura], in The Holiday Trilogy, trans. Anthony Oldcorn (New York: Marsilio, 1992), 10; Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer, in "She Stoops to Conquer" and Other Comedies, ed. Nigel Wood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 203.

(36) 4.4.1338-47; trans. Prudence Steiner (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009), 81; emphasis mine. Cashman expertly treats scene 4.4 as a theatrical contract; see 158-60. I am indebted to Patricia Armstrong of the Department of French and Italian at Vanderbilt University for opening my own eyes to the discourse of vision in this scene.

(37) Martin Meisel, How Plays Work: Reading and Performance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 64.

(38) Charles Hugo, Les Miserables, Drame (Paris: Pagnerre, 1863), 13. For a brief discussion of the first stage adaptations of the novel, see Henry Lyonnet, Les "Premieres" de Victor Hugo (Paris: Delagrave, 1930), 205-12.

(39) Charles Hugo, 16, 18, 21.

(40) Ibid., 43.

(41) Ibid., 54.

(42) Ibid., 143, 144-5, 149.

(43) The motif of the candlesticks was later the basis for a very successful one-act play by Norman McKinnel, The Bishop's Candlesticks (London: Samuel French, 1908), in which the author first played "The Convict" at the Duke of York's Theatre (St. Martin's Lane) in 1901.

(44) See Giacomo Puccini, Tosca, ed. Ilaria Narici, 4 vols. (Milan: Archivio Storico Ricordi, 2004), 2:213. I am grateful to Caria Williams, Head of Public Services at the William and Gayle Cook Music Library at Indiana University's School of Music for assisting a non-musician in interpreting this recent facsimile edition of Puccini's autograph score.

(45) Victorien Sardou, La Tosca, in L'Illustration Theatrale 121 (19 June 1909): 29. For a facsimile edition of the libretto and other documents used for the original production of the opera, see Victorien Sardou, Tosca [Testi e docurnenti] (Firenze: L. S. Olschki, 2009). For an interesting discussion of this scene, see Susan Vandiver Nicassio, Tosca's Rome: The Play and the Opera in Historical Perspective (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 218-20.

(46) Stephane Braunschweig's sparse, modern-dress mise-en-scene at the Theatre National de Strasbourg in 2008 activated the table as altar-like by placing on it a simple cross (not crucifix) that echoed conspicuous chains worn by both Orgon and Tartuffe. This potent effect is similar, if less subtle, to that which I am describing for the seventeenth-century performance tradition of the candles, and serves to demonstrate a very effective economy of theatrical signs. See Tartuffe, DVD, directed by Stephane Braunschweig (2008; Strasbourg: Seppia, 2008).

(47) In his unsurpassed description of the "Affaire du Tartuffe," Emanuel S. Chill notes: "Originally portrayed, in all probability, as a cleric, then as a gentleman, the villain of the present play is neither and both. The Tartuffe we know wears semiclerical dress and is priest-like without being a priest. [Note:] In Moliere's day, the soutane was not peculiar to the clergy. The bar and the lower reaches of the magistrature were given to similar dress, and one would expect to find lay members of the Holy Sacrament wearing a somber, priestly kind of dress"; see his "Tartuffe, Religion, and Courtly Culture" French Historical Studies 3 (1963): 151-83 (169).

(48) Antoine Furetiere, Dictionaire Universel Contenant Generalement Tous les Mots Francois tant Vieux que Modernes, & les Termes de Toutes les Sciences et des Arts, 3 vols. (The Hague: Arnout et Renier Leers, 1690), l:n.p.; underlined emphasis mine. The first Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francoise (1694) specified an altar, in similar fashion, as a "[l]ieu esleve en forme de table pour y faire des sacrifices" See Academie Francoise, Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francoise, Dedie au Roy (Paris: J. B. Coignard, 1694), 72; emphasis mine.

(49) The relevant first principle of the structuralist theatrical theory of the Prague School, which "can best be termed that of the semiotization of the object," is described by Keir Elam with an apt example:

   The process of semiotization is clearest, perhaps, in the case of
   the elements of the set. A table employed in dramatic
   representation will not usually differ in any material or
   structural fashion from the item of furniture that the members of
   the audience eat at, and yet it is in some sense transformed: it
   acquires, as it were, a set of quotation marks. It is tempting to
   see the stage table as bearing a direct relationship to its
   dramatic equivalent-the fictional object that it represents--but
   this is not strictly the case; the material stage object becomes,
   rather, a semiotic unit standing not directly for another
   (imaginary) table but for the intermediary signified 'table', i.e.
   for the class of objects of which it is a member. The metaphorical
   quotation marks placed around the stage object mark its primary
   condition as representative of its class, so that the audience is
   able to infer from it the presence of another member of the same
   class of objects in the represented dramatic world (a table which
   may or may not be structurally identical with the stage object). It
   is important to emphasize that the semiotization of phenomena in
   the theatre relates them to their signified classes rather than
   immediately to the dramatic world, since it is this which allows
   non-literal signifiers or sign-vehicles to perform the same
   semiotic function as literal ones (the dramatic referent, the
   imaginary table, might be represented by a painted sign, a
   linguistic sign, an actor on all fours, etc.).

See Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2002), 4-27 (6-7); emphasis mine. Following Cashman (n. 10), since Moliere/Elmire is creating a "performance-within-a-play," the semiotic conventions that may operate within that internal performance are not necessarily the same as the more "realistic" (or literal) conventions that are presumed to operate in the framing performance, where a "table" is just a table, soa slippage with respect to the table's signified is entirely possible, if not intended. In this respect, like Floria Tosca, Elmire may be seen to create a simulacrum of an altar, a very specific decor for her intended performance and, as we shall see, one suggested to her by Tartuffe himself.

(50) [Pierre Roulle,] Le Roi glorieux au Monde, ou Louis XIV, le plus Glorieux de Tous les Rois du Monde (Paris, 1664), 48.

(51) Ibid., 50-51. Of course, I assume that a variation of the "table scene" was part of Moliere's original conception of the play as early as 1664; see John Cairncross, New Light on Moliere (Geneva: Droz, 1956).

(52) The play's dialogue suggests that one of the sacraments to which Moliere/Tartuffe might have directly alluded was that of Penance or Confession, and more specifically the casuistry that might obtain therein (4.3.1487-1492). The published text marks the offending passage with a uniquely extra-dramatic commentary--"Cest un scelerat qui parle" (It's a villain who speaks)--so as to assert that Tartuffe's opinions are not that of the author. But Roulle's perception (and that of others so offended) would have extended to the sacrament of the Eucharist if he (they) imagined an altar, which may be why he mentions the sacraments plural in his condemnation.

(53) "At a strictly low Mass celebrated by any priest inferior to a bishop, whatever be his dignity, only two candles may be used." Augustin Joseph Schulte, "Altar Candles," in The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907 (online), <>.

(54) Frederic Cousinie, Le Saint des Saints: Maitres-Autels et Retables Parisiens du XVIIe Siede (Aix-en-Provence: Publications de 'l'Universite de Provence, 2006).

(55) Martha Mel Stumberg Edmunds, Piety and Politics: Imaging Divine Kingship in Louis XIV's Chapel at Versailles (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2002), 129-30, 148. For more on the difference between high and lesser altars, see Augustin Joseph Schulte, "High Altar," in The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910 (online), <>; and William Fanning, "Oratory; in The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 (online), <http://www.newadvent. org/cathen/11271a.htm>.

(56) Spingler, 240.

(57) Moliere, (Euvres Completes, 2:93.

(58) Clare Asquith, Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare (New York: Public Affairs, 2005), xv.

(59) Le Memoire de Mahelot, ed. Pierre Pasquier (Paris: Champion, 2005), 279; Marc Bayard, Feinte Baroque: Iconographie et Esthetique de la Variete au XVIIe Siecle (Rome: Academie de France a Rome-Villa Medicis, 2010), 93, 208-9.

(60) "Portrait de Francois de Paris, agenouinedevant un autel"; "M.r de Paris passe la plus grandepartie de la nuit en prierre"; "M.r de Paris recoit le S.t Viatique la veille de sa mort." BnF (Recueil Michel Hennin, Tome 92, 8017, 8048, 8049).

(61) Henry Phillips, Church and Culture in Seventeenth-Century France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 22.

(62) The key works on the "cabale des devots" are Raoul Allier, La Compagnie du Tres SaintSacrement de l'Autel: la Cabale des Devots (Paris: Colon, 1902) and Alain Tallon, La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, 1629-1667 (Paris: Cerf, 1990). See also Ivan Strenski, Contesting Sacrifice: Religion, Nationalism, and Social Thought in France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 12-19, 22-25.

(63) 3.3.987-94; trans. Steiner, 67; emphasis mine.

Table 1. Incidence of some words for "candle/s" in Moliere's plays

                                     bougie   bougies   chendelle

La Jalousie de barbouille    (?)                            1
Les Precieuses ridicules    (1659)
Dom Garcie de Navarre       (1661)
L'Ecole des maris           (1661)
Dom Juan                    (1665)
Le Sicilien                 (1667)
Amphitryon                  (1668)
George Dandin               (1668)                          1
L'Avare                     (1668)                          1
Psyche                      (1671)
La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas   (1671)     1       2

                            chandelles   flambeau   flambeaux

La Jalousie de barbouille
Les Precieuses ridicules        1
Dom Garcie de Navarre                       1
L'Ecole des maris                           1
Dom Juan                                    3
Le Sicilien                                             3
Amphitryon                                              1
George Dandin
Psyche                                      1
La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas                               1
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Author:Muller, David G.
Publication:Comparative Drama
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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